My Pandemic Diary, Entry #61

My Pandemic Diary, Entry #61

Hello Fellow City Cooks,

It’s a rainy Saturday on a holiday weekend. I had checked AccuWeather this morning before Mark and I left for our walk and when I checked the app, the rain wasn’t forecast to start for a couple of hours so we headed out, sans umbrellas. AccuWeather, however, wasn’t very “accu” because within 20 blocks it began to pour. Despite taking shelter under building awnings and sidewalk scaffolding, we quickly got soaked, but then we figured, heck, what’s a little rain and we pressed on. While the rest of the country may be opening up, we are still very much in lock-down. And that means we are always so very happy just to be outdoors. Even in the rain.

When we got home and started peeling off wet clothes, wet masks, wet baseball caps, I kicked off my shoes as I usually do upon entering our apartment. I was wearing a pair of Allbirds, the most comfortable shoes I’ve ever worn. As you may know, Allbirds are made of wool and after our rainy walk, mine were sodden. I knew they’d dry but it made me realize that for the past ten weeks, all I’ve worn on my feet were either socks or my soft and slouchy Allbirds.

Being a New York City woman, I rather like shoes. I’m not as fanatic about them as some women I know are, but the fact that I haven’t even worn a pair of loafers for more than two months made me consider another detail of what it’s going to be like to re-enter public life: What’s it going to be like to wear real shoes again? Obviously, this is not profound, and yet when you’ve been held private and apart for a long time, the small personal icons of your public life can become evidentiary and symbolic of what we gave up as we stayed home. That’s why I know that the first time I get to put on my favorite red loafers, it will mean I have some place to go, and that I can go there -- and won’t that be terrific.

Cooking and Groceries

Last night’s dinner was one of Mark’s favorites. I made a big, eclectic salad and topped it with shards of really good tuna fish. The salad included arugula, radicchio, cherry tomatoes, chick peas, the remaining frisee, romaine lettuce, red onion, and the last of the rye bread croutons. I dressed it with an aggressive mustard vinaigrette, and after it was tossed, I carefully placed on top -- so that they wouldn’t get mushed and lost in the salad -- several large pieces of an amazing canned Sicilian red tuna I brought back as a food souvenir from a trip to Sicily almost three years ago.

The huge 1.1 pound can of tuna is dated to expire in November and I had waited long enough to use it in such a perfect holiday weekend supper. We used half of the tuna in our salad and I saved the rest, including its oil, to add in in the next few days to a pasta sauce.

I love food souvenirs. Over the years I’ve carefully wrapped and surreptitiously packed in my checked luggage such things as cumin from Egypt; urfa pepper and pepper pastes from Istanbul; from Sicily there were not only two cans of this tonno rosso but also oregano, anchovies, Bronte pistachios, and salted capers from Pantelleria; from Tuscany I've brought tubes of triple concentrate tomato paste, red pepper flakes, and exquisite mostarda; and from France, while the list has been long, there have been powdered, crème and geléed Espellette pepper, olive oil from Nyons, tubes of Dijon mustard from Dijon, walnut oil, sel de Guerande, and Herbes de Provence.  Most of these are now easily available in the U.S. but bought locally, they are inevitably better quality, fresher, and cheaper, plus they include memories.

Last night we had a payoff from lugging those tuna cans home in our luggage because the tuna was amazing, with its salty, almost tannic flavor. I had wished that we had a loaf of good bread, but absent that, I opened a package of Wasa rye crisp crackers and served them with my best Irish butter. It was an adequate stand-in for a baguette and it's what we had. 

Tonight we will have chicken. I had grabbed a package of what I thought were thighs on the bone from the freezer, but instead ended up defrosting boneless and skinless thighs. So instead of the chicken fricassee with tomatoes and artichokes that I had planned (a really wonderful Patricia Wells recipe), I will have to come up with something interesting to do with the boneless thighs. I’ll do the fricassee next time. I also defrosted a small package of pork ribs so that tomorrow I can use them in a favorite cabbage soup recipe. The weather is getting warmer and this hearty soup is not what you’d first choose to eat for dinner on a late spring night so I thought I should get it made before summer arrived.     

Pandemic Tips

I came upon three items that may be interesting or useful. 

The first is off my usual topics and it has to do with skincare. I’m still mostly home-bound but when I go grocery shopping or we do one of our morning walks, I always wear a mask. And even with just that, the mask is irritating my skin and I can only anticipate that when NYC finally starts to open, the mask wearing and subsequent irritation will only increase. I did a little research and came up with this article from Into The Gloss that seemed helpful.   

I do not cook a lot of Asian dishes but I know many others who do and they tell me that ingredients for Indian, Korean, Chinese and Japanese cuisines, while easier to find than they used to be, can still be tricky to source and this article from Eater, with a detailed list of specialty NYC-area and online grocers, may be helpful. When checking the store locations, make sure you check each merchant for their list because for at least one of the grocers listed, I noticed that Eater did not flag every NYC location and you may incorrectly assume that there’s nothing in your neighborhood.

Finally, in the unlikely case that you’re running out of things to read, this article from Medium provides an interesting inside look into King Arthur Flour, the Vermont employee-owned company that’s been important during this pandemic for bread bakers across the country. 

Tomorrow I’m going to take the day off. No housework, no French verb conjugations, and no Pandemic Diary. I need a day with no deliverables and no structure. I’m also going to try and not monitor the news. So don’t be concerned when you don’t hear from me. I hope you, too, are able to give yourself the occasional day off. As Mark often quotes his late father, “a change is as good as a rest.”

Stay safe and have a nice dinner.

Kate McDonough

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Pandemic DiariesTuna (canned)Travel Cooking

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